The Windsor Beauties are a set of portrait paintings, still in the Royal Collection, by Sir Peter Lely and his workshop, produced in the early to mid-1660s, that depict ladies of the court of King Charles II, some of whom were his mistresses. The name stems from the original location of the collection, which was at Windsor Castle. In 2022, they were on display at Hampton Court Palace.
A set of copies was commissioned by Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland in the 17th century for his collection at Althorp House, and the complete set can still be viewed there in the Picture Gallery, a room he created to show off his adoration for art.
The Royal Collection includes 10 portraits as part of the set. They show the women at three-quarter length in various poses. Some women wear current fashions; others are draped in loose robes intended to evoke classical antiquity.
Originally commissioned by Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, the first mention of the paintings is by Samuel Pepys, describing them in his diary as being hung in "the Duke of York's room" in 1668. A 1674 inventory lists them as in the ducal rooms at St. James Palace; and by 1688 they had moved to the "Princess's dressing room" at Windsor Castle. Moved to the castle's state rooms during the 18th century, the Windsor Beauties were transferred to Hampton Court at some time prior to 1835.
The original set of "Beauties" painted by Lely include, depending on the source, these 12 portraits:
The portraits for the first 10 names are included at the Royal Collection website as "probably commissioned by Anne Hyde, Duchess of York."
The Duchess of York does not figure in the above list often; but since she was largely responsible for the collection, and choosing the sitters, she was also painted as part of the series. Possibly a little flattery from Lely was responsible for this.
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